Monday, June 30, 2008

Watch out boys, she’s a [blinking] man-eater!

There are many reasons besides the calendar telling me that it is officially Summer. For one, fireworks are on sale at the grocery store. I’ve also been consuming a lot of macaroni salad. We’ve all got mosquito bites and sun tan lines. And, my favorite indicator of our warmest season, the lightning bugs are back.
Whether you call them lightning bugs or fireflies, these little critters with their flashing hind ends never cease to amaze me. They have been entertaining people young and old, since that very first day when someone saw a flash of light in the woods and wondered just what it could possibly be.
Since then, we’ve been chasing them and collecting them in jars to make our own nightlights. My grandmother, who is a very sweet lady, admits that she used to smash the glowing ends onto her nails as glow in the dark nail polish when she was younger. And while I never had the “guts” to do that, I’ve caught my fair share of the illuminating fliers over the years.
No matter whether you are a lightning bug watcher, catcher, collector, or manicurist, you would probably agree that those flying beetles are some of the sweetest, most innocent that you know. But just read on…
Scientifically speaking, each species of firefly has their own blinking pattern. The males are the only ones that actually fly and blink, while the females sit on the ground and respond accordingly. Or as I explain to my kids, “it’s like the boys are driving around in big fancy cars honking the horns, and if the girls want to go out on a date, they honk back.” Biology, I find, is fairly difficult to explain to young children, and I usually end up sounding like a deranged teenager caught in a tornado of gossip.
There is, however, one fantastic biological story about my flying friend that is worth the time and effort to explain.
As I said before, each species has its own pattern so that males and females know who is who because there are a lot of different species out there. But one species, or rather the almighty female of one species, is smarter than the average bug. She is an evil genius. I think she is the kind that, if she was a human, would end up being the character on the soap operas that everyone loves to hate.
She is a man-eater.
This hungry lady hangs out in the grass where the girls who are waiting for the boys with the fancy cars would be. Only she’s really a biker chick and isn’t really into cars, so when the boys drive by and honk, she has to fake an “ooh, handsome wheels” flash right back at the male, luring him into her trap.
He blinks (honks,) then she blinks (fakes,) and before you know it, the poor sucker has honed in on her location and is pulling his Mustang convertible right up to her door.
I’m certain that the faking female then throws back her little beetle head and laughs a teeny evil genius laugh before devouring the less-than-intelligent male, who really thought he was going to go on a date.
As I see it, this tale of trickery provides a few very important life lessons. For one, it’s a nice lesson in “everything isn’t always what it seems.” Secondly, it’s a great story that might get my kids interested in science. It also gives me a good defense when arguing with my husband. (As is, “do you want me to go all lightning bug on you?”) And lastly, it gives me a nice platform for explaining the perils of dating to my kids at a young age, and teaching them that boys in shiny cars should look out for girls who honk back.

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